For a movie inspired by public toilets, the Oscar-winning film “Perfect Days” surpasses expectations and leaves one with more appreciation for the mundane things in life. Directed by Wim Wenders, this film follows the daily life of a janitor in Tokyo who manages to find beauty in each day. 

The main character, Hirayama, played by Kojo Yakusho, goes through the same daily routine each morning: he folds up his futon, brushes his teeth, waters his plants, and trims his beard, before stepping outside his door and taking a deep breath, gazing up at the slowly brightening sky. He then goes to work and the audience gets a close look at the many public restrooms in Tokyo, each with its own special design. During his lunch break, Hirayama points his film camera up at the trees and snaps a picture, capturing the unique design of the leaves as they appear in that moment. 

The movie was conceptualized around a Japanese word with no English counterpart: “komorebi”. It refers to a unique effect created by light filtering through leaves and foliage. “Komorebi” is featured in these photos that Hirayama takes daily and often appears in his dreams, the shadows and lights flickering as he sleeps. 

 He sits in the same place, pointing his camera at the same section of branches every day; yet, no picture is the same. This represents Hirayama’s own life and his seemingly mundane routine. While he goes through many of the same motions, each day is never truly the same. 

We see his daily cycle multiple times throughout the film, documenting his life over a few weeks, but the audience remains captivated. Yes, his mornings are the same, his coffee is the same, and his lunch is the same — but Hirayama notices and appreciates the world around him, same or different. He watches the behavior of the people surrounding him and wonders at the beauty of the city he sees every day. People filter in and out of his life, never staying for very long, but that doesn’t mean the connections made were useless. 

One of the people Hirayama encounters is a girl who becomes enraptured by one of his cassettes — the album, “Horses,” by Patti Smith. He notices her reaction and slips the tape into her bag while she isn’t looking. We don’t know what happens to this girl once she leaves the realm of his life, but we don’t need to. We understand that both Hirayama and this girl’s lives were enriched by the other from the short time they spent together. 

While we often go to movies expecting tidy endings, part of the beauty of this movie is that it isn’t plot-driven; there is no real destination, but the audience is meant to enjoy the journey. In the same way that Hirayama benefits from his brief encounters with different people throughout the film, our journey with him is just as short but the message stays with us long after the movie ends.

While Asian representation in American cinema has a long way to go, it was pretty special to go to a local AMC theater and be able to watch a movie that is one hundred percent in Japanese. This is the third Japanese movie released to American theaters, the other two being Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” and Takashi Yamazaki’s “Godzilla Minus One.” 

All three of these movies were nominated for an Oscar with “The Boy and the Heron” winning the Animated Feature Film category and “Godzilla Minus One” cinching the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. While “Perfect Days” did not win the Oscar for Best International Feature Film, it was part of a group of Japanese films that made an impact at this year’s Oscars, increasing overall visibility for Asian films in the United States. 

Not only does the film increase APIDA visibility, but it also allows Americans to get a unique look into Tokyo and yes, its toilets. The meticulously designed restrooms of Tokyo are a stark contrast to the grimy, common facilities that occupy much of the United States. The various colors and innovative designs show us how much care was put into the smallest details of Tokyo and why this city is architecturally beautiful. 

The idea of a film following the life of a janitor who cleans public toilets may conjure up a familiar theme: a regular man is fed up with his unfulfilling life until something extraordinary happens that forces him into a life he would never have dreamed of. He ultimately saves the day as the unexpected hero and maybe finds the love of his life along the way — the end. 

This film is not that story. This film follows the life of an ordinary man who is just as ordinary by the movie’s end as he was at the beginning. Instead of becoming extraordinary, he appreciates the ordinary and forces the audience to consider what truly constitutes a happy life.

Visual Credit: Photo by Nick Gordon on Unsplash


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